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Social and economic aspects of climate change in arctic regions
by Hugh Beach
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The Negotiation of Nature
  While it is popular to assume that ecology is a nonpartisan scientific discipline, deeper reflection forces us to recognize that when linked to any form of advocacy, such as what his ecologically desirable, it is not and can inherently never stand free from politics.
  To examplify: Among the most controversial issues for Saami today are 1) the existential status of predator populations at the expense of the reindeer herding livelihood 2) the claim that too many Saami reindeer are transforming the Swedish mountains into a rocky desert 3) the battle over small game hunting and the confiscation of the Saami exclusive hunting right 4) the contested Saami right of traditional usage to graze reindeer east of the Agriculture Line 5) the increasing use of "high-tech" equipment (snowmobiles, helicopters and now motorbikes) in the practice of reindeer herding, and 6) the growing pressures to widen the membership of the herding collectives to include non-herding Saami. Obviously each of these issues has direct economical bearing on Saami livelihoods and, through them, bearing on Saami culture. The entrance of Sweden into EU is also a matter of utmost significance for the Saami, as it imposes yet another layer of higher-order regulation far removed from the local context. The limited self-determination which the Saami have still been able to maintain regionally in a livelihood legally confined to them is now under threat, not as before from the competition of farmers and settlers, or by the rationalization programs of the welfare State, but rather from the appropriation into global concerns.
  Certainly, in the examples above, resource conflict is a central issue. Yet parallel to the aspect of resource as material good is the aspect of resources as cultural and ethnic domain. Do the reindeer utilize Saami grazing or Swedish grazing? Are the mountain regions a Swedish or a Saami landscape? Most importantly, is the Saami core area and base for Saami livelihoods to be appropriated under the management forms of Swedish ecology imbued with the agreements of international declarations? Or is there room for Saami self-maintenance and self-development, that is, ecological goals dedicated to the sustainable development of the reindeer-herding population and Saami society? Will the international conventions and institutions devised to protect the environment, frequently armed with lowest-common-denominator admonitions and without enforcement agencies, provide better protection than that of traditional local users or individual states?
  The formulation of such questions is preconditioned by an awareness of the unavoidable political dimension of ecology in practice. Goals of "sustainable development" beg the questions what is to be sustained and for whom. There are an infinite number of long-term sustainable ecosystems that can be promoted in a given region; which, is a political question. What can be termed "vulgar ecology" tends to cloak the role of human purpose in conceptions of Nature. It is a perspective readily revealed by the reductionistic, monetary metaphors it employs; one should live on the "interest" and not deplete the "capital" of natural resources. Supposedly, if one follows this rule of thumb, Nature (or whatever eco-system has been targeted by human purposiveness, for example "wetlands") will be sustained. However, in the monetary metaphor, even if amounts of it change, money is a constant. One is either sustaining it, increasing it or depleting it. Eco-systems do not work this way. In whatever way they are being utilized and to whatever degree, they also thereby alter character (not just quantity).
  It is my contention that indigenous peoples can be regarded as weather vanes for the rest of humanity with respect to the effects of climate change. So good are the strong at buffering themselves from the feedback of their own short-sighted policies at the expense of the weak, that many of the future world's worst global dilemmas will surface first among the native minorities. It would be irresponsible to overlook political realities when assessing ecological "winners and losers" of climate change. Not only might climate change destroy much of the cultural continuity and practical livelihoods of northern indigenous peoples, the possible new opportunities it might afford may be largely lost to them. Should, for example, global warming make feasible the cultivation and harvesting of resources new to the north, the proceeds from this venture would most likely come to benefit primarily members of the majority populations.
  It is only relatively recently and in a few specific areas that, through the process of comprehensive settlement claims, the rights of northern indigenous peoples have been recognized by their encompassing Nation-States as including land ownership and various degrees of self-government. The Greenlanders have been granted Home Rule by Denmark, and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 has established 12 regional land owning corporations. In Canada the Inuvialuit Final Agreement in the Northwest Territories and the Nunavut settlement in the eastern Arctic are examples of major native land settlements. However, throughout most of the Arctic regions indigenous peoples do not possess the ultimate control over resource exploitation. Commonly they are seen to enjoy only usufruct rights of land use, based upon their traditional use. For example, the Saami in Sweden have alone been granted the privilege to herd reindeer on Crown lands, but they would certainly not be given the same right to herd sheep there. Indigenous peoples with mere usufruct rights can hardly stand in the way of exploitation condoned or instigated by a self-professed land owning Nation-State. Were the climate to change so as to demand or make possible new forms of livelihood for northern indigenous peoples, the new livelihoods would not entail the legal or moral justifications for Native monopoly of resource access enjoyed by many Natives today. Also international conventions ratified by many of the northern nations protect Native resource utilization as an essential element for indigenous cultural maintenance. Even apart from the added problems of climate change, the pressures of modernization and rationalization which bring about such practices as reindeer herding by helicopter already try the patience of majority peoples who have been denied resource access on the grounds that it is necessary for the preservation of Native traditions.
  Because of the many bitter conflicts between northern indigenous peoples and their encompassing governments over natural resources (hydro-electric power, timber, mining, hunting and fishing, tourism, and animal protection), local indigenous peoples are not necessarily prone to look kindly upon Nation-State environmental protection efforts. Instead, and with good cause, they often view government environmental policies and constraints as yet another layer of colonialism, another means of blocking indigenous self-determination, again with the so-often-heard refrain in the wake of government-condoned massive environmental destruction benefiting powerful urban-based money interests that the new regulations are for "their own good."
  If humankind is to confront the dangers of climate change, the knowledge how best to do so and the technology to effectuate this knowledge are not enough. Western scientists, products of industrialized Nation-States, must establish a fundamental integrity with indigenous peoples and bring them as co-partners into this essentially human enterprise. Otherwise there is the very real risk that the "cure" will be regarded by them as worse than the disease and as another colonial ploy, stripping them of self-determination and disrespectful of their indigenous knowledge.
  While the impacts of various forms of pollution over the past years have had demonstrated negative effects on indigenous health and the maintenance of indigenous livelihoods, the effects of climate change are far more subtle, and what human agency there might be is far less recognizable amidst the myriad of other long-term cyclic climatic trends. With respect to dramatic impact on indigenous lives, direct human-made impacts of pollution, legislation and competitive exploitation of lands are the most pressing. This is not new. What is new is the justification often given by majority legislators and the public media for legislative changes regulating indigenous resource use. While those indigenous peoples who have been bereft of their lands and stripped of their special resource rights are frequently portrayed as romantic ecological gurus, those maintaining some form of special resource access are all too often labeled eco-criminals. Over grazed ranges, decreased game stocks and the decrease of protected predatory species are habitually and solely laid at the door of indigenous land users.
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Social and economic aspects of climate change in arctic regions, by Hugh Beach.
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